Your God Now: Repairing the National Dialogue
Your God Now: Repairing the National Dialogue
A journey across election-year America in search of meaning, God, and common ground.
A journey across election-year America in search of meaning, God, and common ground. Read more
Your God Now is a study of the vast spectrum of differing spiritual beliefs and how they affect both individual political views and the political climate of the country as a whole - at a time when positions on contested issues are more polarized than in any time in recent memory.
The project consists of three parts:
- The tour: During the 2016 calendar year, I will travel to different locations across the contiguous U.S. to speak with ordinary citizens about the topics they care about, how those topics are affected by their spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof), and how those beliefs/non-beliefs translate to their support for a particular presidential candidate or platform. Oftentimes, but not always, this nationwide tour will coincide with one of the candidates' campaign stops or supporter rallies.
- The online community: I will set up a social network/forum where supporters will be able to interact among themselves and with me - a forum where the "hot-button" social, political, and philosophical issues can be discussed freely, even between completely divergent ideological groups, without judgment, backlash, or defensiveness. In fact, the only rule - to be strictly enforced - is that members of the social site must be kind to one another at all times. It is via this online connection that supporters of the project will follow my progress, submit questions, and suggest campaign stops and topics for discussion.
- The book: This is the end-product - a 350-400 page compendium compiled from all the discussions and interactions I have had on my trip across America as well as in the online forum. An exploration of differing, often conflicting, religiopolitical worldviews against the backdrop of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
The book will be structured in separate chapters for each subject broached during my conversations: ranging from timeless (Why are we here? Is there an afterlife?) to the topical (Should gay and lesbian couples be able to adopt? Should some crimes be punishable by death?). Interspersed with these chapters will be the chronological story of happenings on the campaign trail - including which candidates are addressing or ignoring the pervading religious/spiritual issues, whether their faiths appear genuine or manufactured to appeal to voters, and, among the electorate, how closely do divisions in religious belief hew to divisions in candidate support.
What's in a title?
- YOUR - Because this is about you - your personal beliefs, feelings, opinions, and how they relate to, affect, and are affected by your friends and neighbors. You as an individual. You as a nation.
- GOD - Basically, what you understand the concept of God to be. Where is God ideologically, physically, metaphorically? If there is a God (or if there are gods), how should God and/or his/her followers be in our modern world? How does God, or our concept of God, or our belief or absence of belief in God influence the decisions we make about our country's political direction?
- NOW - Because this is a snapshot in time ... not an investigation into the God or gods of ancient scriptures and not a study of past political conflicts. This is about the problems that face our society now. These are the questions we should be asking now. And why now? What better time than now to discuss God among the universe of hot-button issues - during a presidential election year - when those issues are most at the forefront of our national consciousness?
You may be wondering why I feel compelled to take on this weighty, lengthy topic. Personally, the daily confrontations between different factions exhaust me. While I certainly understand the need and the desire to DEFEND my beliefs and attempt to CONVINCE disbelievers of what I believe to be true, I think that we are overlooking the similarly important need to be UNDERSTANDING and KIND. I know it is possible because I have dear friends on opposite, extreme sides of arguments from myself - and the fact that we can and have always been able to talk about these differences without resorting to anger and derision has only deepened my relationship with them. Interesting interpersonal things can happen when you stop seeing the "other" as a villainous caricature.
This is not, by the way, an endorsement of any kind of relativism - absolute truth exists whether we will ever know it or agree upon it or not. For some people's beliefs to be right, others' have to be dead wrong. That's just not what this book is about. There are other books that will try to persuade you to "come around" to the "right" way of thinking. The only thing this book will try to do is persuade you to develop a more thoughtful, understanding relationship with your neighbor.
My motivations for the project are based on the following assumptions:
- Politics and religion are two of the most divisive topics, and in modern American society these topics influence each other in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
- One need not dig too deeply into social media and current events to find evidence that these divisions have the capacity to become hurtful, damage interpersonal relationships, and - at their worst - turn violent.
- Instead of actively talking about contentious political and religious beliefs, voters allow themselves to be talked to. Often the aim of the message being communicated is not truth or understanding, but the promotion of agendas that may be very different and far removed from the topic being discussed - with the end result being the over-simplistic vilification of people who have different views.
The goal of this project is not to change anyone's mind, but to encourage the electorate to be more deliberate about their own beliefs and how they are communicated to others, as well as to promote tolerance for differing opinions. We can make progress as a society by examining, critiquing, and challenging the ideas that form our understanding of how the world does and should work.
In doing so, we can also give voice to citizens of all faiths and from a multitude of perspectives along the spectrum of belief and non-belief (i.e., we can look beyond the extreme viewpoints and political mudslinging that dominate the national news media).
You may want to know what my beliefs are. That is fair, since I am asking the same of you. I lean liberal, am very skeptical, and grew up a Protestant Christian. We can use that as a starting-off point for our discussions, but for the purposes of this project it does not matter what I believe. What matters is what you, the collective "you," believe. What matters is the idea that the discussion of these different ideas and the acceptance of those who hold them is better for society than one side ridiculing and bashing the other - turning deaf ears to any suggestion of looking deeper into a topic or exploring different directions.
Brass tacks ... how will the contributions be used?
Funding from the Kickstarter campaign will allow for:
- The printing and shipping of 1) 5,000 copies of a tasteful, professional, trade paperback edition of the book; 2) 500 copies of the hardback, clothbound special edition; 3) photographs taken along the route, across the country, to be included in the book itself and released as high-quality postcard prints for project backers.
- Travel expenses for a committed, year-long tour coinciding with the 2016 presidential campaign - to include stops in hundreds of communities.
- The ability for the author to make that time commitment while continuing to provide for a very understanding family back home.
At the end of the project, I intend to demonstrate that, while there will always be disagreement on a range of very important subjects among the voting public, that disagreement need not be an unhealthy one. I do not think this book will change anyone's beliefs. But I do think it, and more efforts like it, might change our attitudes toward the people who hold those beliefs. Through conversation we can come to a deeper understanding of ourselves, our neighbors, and our nation.
Risks and challenges
If the project is successfully funded, that will mean that I have at least found enough people interested in having this conversation. The challenge may come from having such an overabundance of source material at the end of the year that would necessitate editing the content down to a publishable state. Granted, that would be a nice problem to have - and I have planned a few months at the end of the campaign for this purpose.
Time for production of the book itself should not be a factor, but, of course, unforeseen circumstances can always arise. You, the loyal contributor, will be frequently updated - through Kickstarter email updates as well as over the social network - throughout the data collection, production, and post-production processes.
This is, after all, a journey we are taking together.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (31 days)